16 Nov 2015

Drones Used in Wildlife Study

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) have been a hot topic of debate in preceding years considering its personal uses and loose guidelines. However, a study known as the “Hudson Bay Project”, a combined effort between Canadian and US partners, has given the technology another area to benefit: scientific research. Focused on geese, researchers are using UAVs to look at the effects of their overabundant population in the tundra.shutterstock 130607222

After almost five decades, the research team used UAVs as a tool to survey a remote area in Manitoba, Canada, also known as the polar bear capital of the world. Originally, the team flew into the region using helicopters and performed on-foot research. Unfortunately, previous methods disturbed the ecosystem and placed researchers in danger from polar bears.

Flying from Wapusk National Park in June and July of 2015, the project piloted close to 90 test flights and gathered more than 80,000 images using a single UAV. The 5.5-pound flyer – made from Styrofoam – was launched using a catapult. Taking photos at one-second intervals, the pictures were stitched together to provide an image of the area below.

“Once we’re set up, the birds didn’t seem to pay attention to the aircraft,” said University of North Dakota biologist Susan Ellis-Felege. “But to confirm nesting bird responses, we are now reviewing camera footage and sound recordings from the nests to determine if they show any responses to this small aircraft flying above them.”

“We have been able to enhance and extend our geographical coverage, and to do it in a way that precludes potential disturbances of the very ecosystem we are studying,” said Robert Rockwell, a research associate in the Museum’s Department of Ornithology and a senior scientist of the Hudson Bay Project. “It also helps us avoid confrontation with the ever-present bears, the region’s top predators. The first year’s operations were a grand success by any measure, and I look forward to expanding our efforts in 2016 and beyond.”